‘My tutor taught me to look at the person behind the symptoms and to connect with their experience.’
During my training as a GP, I once sat opposite a patient whom I could not help very well. She was a Berber woman from Morocco, and she kept sighing in pain. Out of frustration, I also started sighing. My tutor then reprimanded me. He said: this woman has pain in her body, but she does not have the words to explain it. She is in a foreign country where she does not speak the language, and then there is a sighing GP sitting opposite her.
That moment opened my eyes. I am still grateful to my tutor. If you want to provide good care, you have to look at the person behind the symptoms and find a connection with their experience. Only then can you look for a solution together. In my current practice in Amsterdam Zuidoost, I have a very diverse patient population. That was a conscious decision; I like having all these different people in my consulting room.
Providing care takes time, and it helps a lot if you know each other. Unfortunately, GPs only have ten minutes for each patient during their consultations. This time pressure is a huge and costly obstacle for me. I think there would be fewer referrals if I would have more time for my patient in the beginning.
It is also crucial that patients are not afraid to go to the doctor with their symptoms. Especially when it comes to menstrual and menopausal complaints, I have noticed that there is often a taboo on this. As a result, women sometimes ignore symptoms that have a real solution.
In general, women have more unexplained symptoms than men. That is because, in medicine, the white man has long been the standard. Research, diagnoses and medication have all been tailored to men. We now know that the female body reacts very differently to illnesses and medication. Fortunately, there is growing attention for these gender differences, and for the fact that ethnicity plays a role in illness. In general, it is positive that there is more attention to diversity on a broader level in society. If there would be more women and people of colour in all levels in the medical world, it would benefit our healthcare.